Article: How to engage women farmers more effectively in the value chain? Hear from four industry practitioners.

21 August 2023

By Jasmin Hidanovic | Senior Manager, Technical Assistance

Women make up 43% of the global agricultural labour force (FAO, 2023), yet often their work goes unnoticed and unrewarded. There is a strong gender business case for African agribusinesses to ensure women are engaged more effectively in the value chain. Some examples include: access to new markets/customers; better adherence to good agricultural practices taught during training and hence improved quantity and quality of produce; improved reliability/loyalty and positive branding as an inclusive business, which can lead to premium pricing and increased access to capital.

Nevertheless, many agribusinesses face challenges in increasing the representation and voice of women in the value chain. AgDevCo is a 2X Challenge Flagship Fund and is committed to promoting gender equality, both at the investee level as well as in the value chain. On 13 July 2023, AgDevCo hosted a knowledge sharing session on engaging women more effectively in the value chain. The session was targeted at its investees as well as funders and technical assistance service providers. It included a diverse panel of speakers from four agribusinesses in East Africa (three of which are AgDevCo investees), covering various value chains, including poultry, macadamia, forestry and coconuts. Each of them shared their approach to gender inclusion and - although there are some idiosyncrasies in each value chain - many of the challenges are universal.

Figure 1 Speakers on the panel covering agribusinesses (all are AgDevCo investees except Kentaste) from four value chains

One way to learn more about women’s needs in the value chain is to conduct a value chain assessment with a strong gender lens. We supported Uzima Uganda with this.

Andrew Barasa mentions “one of the key recommendations was to take a household approach and invite the whole household to trainings (husband and wife), as opposed to only inviting the registered agent and smallholder customer. 36% of people trained were women. However, despite inviting both spouses, we did not see a marked increase in the attendance of women at trainings. This had to do with time constraints in the household. When both are invited, but the training takes a long time, a household is likely to decide that only one person should go so that the other can take care of domestic responsibilities, and that is often the woman. So, you really need to be intentional and facilitate women’s attendance rather than just invite them.”

Figure 2 Poultry farmer engaged in feeding, Uganda

Joanne Muchai from Kentaste, East Africa’s leading producer and exporter of coconut products, mentioned that “although women farmers tend to have less land and hence fewer coconut trees and overall volumes, we do see that women tend to increase their volumes more year on year compared to men, which is an indication that women attend trainings and diligently apply what they learn during training”.

She went on to tell the story of Mwanasiti, a 70-year old female coconut farmer whose husband is more progressive than most in their community and allowed her to take charge of coconut farming activities. Since she started attending training on good agricultural practices, her yield has more than doubled. As her main source of income, coconuts have helped her take her kids and grandkids through school and supplement the family income. Mwanasiti hopes to save up enough money, buy a water pump and double down on her farming activities so that she can have a productive farm to leave to her grandkids.

Figure 3 Mwanasiti, a Kenyan coconut farmer

The general observation that women apply what they learned better than men was shared by all panellists.

Wambui Rigaga from Afrimac, a macadamia processor and exporter in Kenya, noted that “the business case for Afrimac is based on women applying what they learned better and that also translates to better quality, which for us is the key performance indicator for our financial success. So, it makes sense for us to promote inclusion of women and to actively support them to improve volumes and quality of macadamia.” In relation to her field team “we commissioned a gender value chain expert, who provided a train-the-trainer session for our extension officers to enable them to more confidently approach the male head of household to emphasise the importance of gender inclusion in the cultivation of macadamia.

Another common theme is the challenge of increasing female representation at trainings or as registered farmers in value chains where men own the land and crops are seen as men’s crops. One way to increase the representation of women as registered farmers is to target female-headed households.

Bahati Sosthenes from The New Forests Company, a timber company with operations in Uganda and Tanzania, said “to facilitate the mobilisation of women farmers it is important to be intentional and to have a gender inclusive field team. We have strong female Community Liaison Officers who have better access to women networks and hence are more effective at reaching potential women outgrowers. We encourage village leaders to think outside the box and include women in leadership of associations and to go beyond representation and to ensure these women can meaningfully participate in decision making.

Wambui added that “Men typically have the land title, so in order to get more women registered as macadamia farmers in their own right, we need to address social norms. For that, a long-term, multi-stakeholder household approach would be needed.

An example of such an approach that has been implemented across the continent is the Gender Action Learning System (GALS). Refer to this blog post for more information on this approach and how it was applied in the coffee sector in Tanzania.

Figure 4 Afrimac conducting a training on gender inclusion in the macadamia value chain

Some of the key takeaways from the session were:

1. Be proactive. Just inviting women farmers to trainings is not sufficient and access to training needs to be actively facilitated. This can be done by ensuring trainings are conducted at a time and place that is convenient for women, considering their domestic responsibilities and their mobility constraints. It also means considering the duration of the training and ensuring that training material is visual to address literacy constraints. In some cases, travel allowances need to be considered. Video training at the village level (where extension officers travel to villages by motorbike and conduct video screenings) is generally most effective at reaching women, considering both mobility and time constraints.

2. Consider getting support. There is grant funding and expertise out there to support you on your gender journey, including through AgDevCo’s Technical Assistance Facility (available to AgDevCo investees) as well as other technical assistance providers or NGOs. It is generally good practice to obtain input from a gender expert when designing an initiative (to ensure your approach is appropriate in the local context) and to pilot it before scaling up. However, there are also many resources freely available that can help you on your gender journey such as the BII gender toolkit or Value for Women’s Resources Hub.

3. It has to make business sense. It is critical to identify the business case to ensure that grant-funded gender interventions are sustained.

Remember, you don't need to do things that cost a lot of money and you can achieve quick wins. For example, changing the time and duration of trainings could facilitate attendance by women and including women as lead farmers could have a big demonstration effect for other women.

Although there are some specific issues in certain value chains or cultural contexts, many challenges to increase women representation and voice are similar across value chains and countries. While we also recognise that you cannot cut and paste experiences from one context to the next, we have seen value in our portfolio companies exchanging ideas and lessons learned on how to best integrate and engage women more effectively in the value chain.

Like what you read? This blog is part of a series of blog posts on the topic of gender equality and women’s empowerment that AgDevCo will be posting periodically.

AgDevCo TA support

Below is an overview of how we are supporting our investees through technical assistance (TA). Gender equality is a key theme of our TA. For more information about our TA facility refer to our brochure or contact us.

Uzima Uganda

We supported the business to (1) conduct a gender value chain assessment to better understand how outcomes can be improved for women in the supply chain, (2) roll out district training to train agents and smallholder farmers and (3) expand its brooding agent network by improving access to finance in collaboration with a local finance institution.


We are supporting the business to organise smallholder suppliers in community-based organisations (CBOs) and to contract them for the first time, while providing an intensive training package including field days on demo farms and video training. The objective is to strengthen livelihoods of smallholder farmers by improving the kernel crack-out rate, an important quality indicator that leads to a higher price for both the company and the smallholder farmer.

The New Forests Company

We are supporting New Forests to provide improved extension services and best-in-class seedlings to nearly 600 smallholders across Uganda and Tanzania, including climate-smart good agricultural practices training and an agroforestry pilot. We are also supporting the business to establish a carbon project in Tanzania and a tree genetics improvement programme to identify the best varieties to be used in the context of climate change.